Keeping, Giving, Enjoying (or How to Turn Something Old And Useless Into Something New)

I must begin this post with a little confession – I am a pack rat. I like to keep things. But sometimes you can get more enjoyment from those things by giving them away than you would get by keeping them. This is a lesson I have to re-learn every once in awhile, and one of those once-in-a-whiles was quite recently.

What is a pack rat? My definition is one who keeps things because 1) they are useful and/or 2) they have value to me. I can say I am not a hoarder because if something is of no use or has no value to me, I have no difficulty getting rid of it. So, I am not a hoarder. But I am absolutely a pack rat.

My problems start when I accept a possession as valueless to me, but presume that the item may very well have value to someone else. In that case, I am reluctant to simply add one more thing to my local landfill – I would prefer to seek out that someone who will appreciate my item so that I can pass it along.

A perfect example of this phenomenon came in the form of a little package of photographic film. An ordinary box of film is not noteworthy. (Well, in 2021 it is getting just a little noteworthy, but work with me here.) But when that ordinary little package of film’s odyssey from store to consumer to use spans a period of nearly sixty years, I think it becomes noteworthy. Let me tell you about my film and its long, strange trip.

My father always appreciated good cameras and had the income to be able to afford them. He was not abnormally skilled as a photographer, but he knew that a good camera will take a better picture than a less-good camera in the hands of the same guy. Many of his photos of the early and mid 1960s were developed as Kodachrome slides – for those not into photography, Kodachromes are known for their lucious, vibrant color and their high resistance to decay.

When my parents separated in the latter part of 1966, the existing photos stayed with my Mother, and that included the slides. Those slides were kept in a gray metal cabinet with little plastic drawers – probably designed for storage of nuts and bolts or other small items. Those plastic drawers were almost the perfect size for photographic slides.

As a child I loved looking at photographs, and would periodically page through the photo albums my mother kept. Less frequently I would pull the little cabinet full of slides out of the hall closet, where they lived with a few seldom-used board games. We had a little slide viewer with a battery-powered light bulb. One at a time I would slip those slides into the viewer and gaze into the past of a family that was no more.

The slides did not take up every drawer – some of the others were filled with the kinds of stuff accumulated by those who take pictures. Among those things were some unused flash bulbs . . .

and one little roll of film in its box. It was marked as Kodacolor X film and identified as CX 127, which I assumed was its size. That was all I knew about it.

Sometimes I would look at those flashbulbs and that box of film, but I didn’t think much about them. I got a Kodak 104 camera for Christmas of 1966 and it used a film cartridge and flashcubes. I still have the black & white shots I took that day. I was not very old but knew that flashbulbs and roll film were not the same as flashcubes and cartridge film, so the leftovers in the slide cabinet had no relevance to my life. I assumed they had been for Dad’s camera, but never actually knew. Anyway, there they stayed because nobody in the house had any use for them.

My mother gave me the slide collection when she was moving from our old home after she retired. It was in the same cabinet and still contained the film and flash bulbs I remembered. I looked at the film – I still had no idea what kind of camera used it. And besides, it could not possibly be any good in 1997 because it had expired in December of 1966. But I liked looking at those useless little items and kept them where I found them. Why did I like them? I suppose they made me nostalgic, and reminded me of the many hours I had once spent looking at family pictures and feeling happy.

As an adult I no longer made the time to look at those slides – they went into a file cabinet drawer in my basement, where they stayed for another twenty+ years. And then Covid hit.

With a pandemic raging outside, I entertained grand thoughts of clearing out the decades of flotsam that had accumulated in our basement. For some reason, my mind wandered to those slides – those would stay, of course. But that box of film and the flash bulbs – Those I had no use for.

By that time I had gotten to know Jim Grey as a friend. Jim has written a blog for far longer than I have, and one of his areas of specialty is obsolete film cameras and photography. I offered the film to Jim – I was happy that he was interested. Perhaps I had been wrong about the flash bullbs – Jim confessed that he too had some for which he had not yet found a home.

It took me awhile to assemble 1) a padded envelope and 2) time to put the film in and address it, but I finally transferred the film to Jim. I told him that it had not been stored with any special care, other than living all its life in air conditioned environments. I figured he would either find a place to set it as a knicknack, or maybe he might actually try to take some pictures with it.

My hopes were fulfilled recently when Jim posted on his blog that he had used my film and had gotten some pictures with it. On Saturdays, Jim shares links to blogs he has found interesting and has been featured this one from time to time, something for which I am grateful. Today I get to return the favor and link to Jim’s recent story of running my very, very expired film through one of his cameras and where he shared the results. Click the link and have a look at what 2021 photographs look like on 1966 film.

I now know that it would have been incredibly helpful to Jim if my parents had bought two or three rolls of film to not use, but there is nothing that can be done about that at this late date. Jim did the best he could with what I gave him to work with – and I could not be more thrilled with the results.

I now realize that I could have thought of all kinds of cool subjects he could have shot with that film, but I also realize that this would not have involved a gift of the film, but the borrowing of a photographer, his equipment and all of his experience. I am glad the little box of film was transferred with no strings attached so that Jim could use it as he wished. I did not know that 127 Day was a thing with film photographers, but I do now and cannot imagine a more appropriate use for that stray roll of Kodacolor-X.

And what a great result for me – I gave away something that took up space (if only a little) and got back something to enjoy from now on. Thank you Jim for the gift I received from you.

Photo Credits: All photos by the author, except for that of the Kodak 104 taken by Jim Grey and found online.

13 thoughts on “Keeping, Giving, Enjoying (or How to Turn Something Old And Useless Into Something New)

  1. Wow, alignment of the CC planets. The photos are rather ghostly, appropriate for time travelling 1966 images from the future.

    My Dad has a tray of slides, and his slide projector still works so we used to do “Family fun slide night” at my parents’ place every couple of years. Dad shot both Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides.

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    • That actually kind of sounds like fun. If my parents had a slide projector, Dad ended up with that one and I have no idea what became of it. I have occasionally wondered about looking for an old slide projector with the cartridge trays. I should have done that back in the 80s or 90s when they were surely more plentiful.

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  2. That was interesting, and surprising to even get any images off film so old. I remember flashcubes, and black and white, color was available but was expensive so was used for special occasions like First Communion days. My mother has a collection of old cameras, including an old Brownie camera stored in a closet somewhere – I should dig them out.

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    • My mother used to have the old box camera (which I think was one of the original Brownies from the late 20s) that her parents used to take the photos from her childhood. If I recall, Jim Grey has shot some film through one or two of those in the last decade or so. I have no idea what happened to ours. Now the only vintage camera I have is the Cannon Snappy point & shoot 35mm I used from the early 80s up to my jump to digital.

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  3. Old film turned into new pictures. Having also looked at JG’s blog, this film gave a certain warmth to his pictures. Well done, Jim x 2!

    Like DougD, my father has an abundance of old slides, but it’s like a dozen or more carousels. Next time I’m at their house I need to take a look at them.

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    • My only gripe with those slides is that I have yet to find a good way to digitize them. At least with the things at hand in my house. I once bought a scanner that was supposed to scan slides, but it did a lousy job and I returned it for my money back per the generous retailer’s policy.

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  4. Read a lot of Jim’s blog for his old camera stuff. I have to say, I consider the 126 cartridge to be one of the great “lost” formats. With minor “fixes”, that cartridge could have been made for sharper and flatter film, and probably extended it’s life right on into the digital age, but Kodak would just not work on it, and kept making crappier and smaller formats when the general public was migrating to 35mm point-and-shoot cameras for the higher quality. They totally misread the market. Alas. Got to pipe up here and say, NEVER get rid of those slide trays without extensive consideration of each image! Even “bland” seeming pictures of streets and fields may show something that doesn’t exist today!

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    • I actually got pretty good pictures out of my little 104 – it took better pictures than the newer Kodaks others in my family got. I had not thought about how that film format could have been improved, but you make a great point.

      I agree with you on those slides – my mother extensively captured a 1965 trip from Indiana to California, and there are lots of pictures of “Welcome to [insert State here]” signs, and other touristy shots. I need to look at them again with fresh eyes, because you are probably right about there being more there than I remember.

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      • You said it…1965 was 56 years ago! When I was studying photography in college in 1973, that would have been like looking at photos from 1917!! We look at imaged with an eye that was around that long, but imagine a 19 year old looking at that stuff!

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  5. That’s an amazing story J.P. and Jim, especially the images coming from the old film. I’m going to write a post one day, maybe at the holidays, about my neighbors who had four kids, like stair steps and money was tight but they had a Kodak Instamatic and every year they took one photo of the kids under the tree. One photo per year! Then the film was used up and the camera was put away in a drawer until they had extra money to develop the film. The kids grew up, moved out and came back to visit, then to clear their parents home to ready it for selling after their father died and mom was placed into a nursing home when developed dementia. They discovered the camera and had the film developed and were able to see the pictures of their smiling faces through the years.

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      • I thought so too JP. I was going to share the story around the holidays when people are gathered around with family members. I didn’t do it last year since COVID robbed so many people of those family get togethers. Hopefully this year year that does not happen. It’s incredible to only take one photo per year and never develop the film.

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